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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: Development of Ecologically-Sound Pest, Water and Soil Management Practices for Northern Great Plains Cropping Systems

Location: Agricultural Systems Research Unit

Title: Conservation Agriculture in North America

Authors
item Hansen, Neil -
item Tubbs, Scott -
item Fernandez, Fabian -
item Green, Steven -
item Hansen, Nels -
item Stevens, William

Submitted to: Springer Verlag
Publication Type: Book / Chapter
Publication Acceptance Date: June 16, 2014
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Crop production using conservation agriculture (CA) practices typically includes reduced tillage, mulching with crop residues or cover crops, and diversified crop rotations, especially those that incorporate leguminous crops. A review of research literature indicated that in North America, reduced tillage is the most widely-adopted practice that fits within the CA concept and adoption rates are increasing. Cover crops are used on a low percentage of cultivated land in North America, but recent efforts to promote the value of cover cropping have resulted in increased adoption rates. Moreover, developing cropping systems that use biomass for biofuel systems has potential for further expanding the cultivation of cover crops. There is wide-ranging variability in CA adoption in the different production regions of North America because of differences in climate, soil types, and cropping systems. For example, zero-till adoption has been more extensive in regions where growing seasons are not limited by cold conditions and with moderate levels of crop residue. Zero-till adoption has been limited by difficulties in seeding and the development of weed resistance to common herbicides. Strip tillage has evolved as an alternative conservation tillage practice and is being adopted widely across North America. Future CA systems will allow for conservation practices, such as tillage intensity, to be applied in a spatially-variable way that matches conservation costs and benefits with specific conditions in fields and watersheds.

Technical Abstract: Conservation agriculture (CA) is a production paradigm that groups reduced tillage, mulching with crop residues or cover crops, and diversified crop rotations, especially those that incorporate leguminous crops. In North America, reduced tillage is the most widely-adopted practice that seeks the ideals of CA and adoption rates are increasing. Cover crops are used on a low percentage of cultivated land in North America, but recent efforts to promote the value of cover cropping have resulted in increased adoption rates. Developing cropping systems that use biomass for biofuel systems has potential for expanding the cultivation of cover crops. This chapter illustrates the diversity in CA adoption in North America by describing CA adoption in contrasting production regions with variations in climate, soil types, and cropping systems. Zero-till adoption has been more popular in regions where growing seasons are not limited by cold conditions and with moderate levels of crop residue. Zero-till adoption has been limited by difficulties in seeding and the development of weed resistance to common herbicides. Strip tillage has evolved as an alternative conservation tillage practice and is being adopted widely across North America. Future CA systems will allow for conservation practices, such as tillage intensity, to be applied in a spatially-variable way that matches conservation costs and benefits with specific conditions in fields and watersheds.

Last Modified: 9/23/2014
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